Toy Cars, Smiles, and Autism: A Birthday Tribute to Our Family’s Healer

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Today my family celebrates my youngest son’s two-year old birthday. Since his breakthrough into this world, he provided my life with light, levity, and laughter. Being our rainbow baby—a child born after suffering a marriage—his name seemed to be apropos, Josiah. The name Josiah actually means “healer”. Truly, the Holy Spirit guided my wife and I toward this name. In a gridlock over boy names, suddenly the name Josiah entered my mind as an option. Upon telling my wife of this idea she fell instantly in love with the name. Only after settling on this matter did we discover his healing nature.

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According to Psalm 147:3, “[God] heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.” The Divine Physician sends healing graces in a myriad of ways—the ordinary and prime method is through the gifts of the seven sacraments. Children are a natural fruit of the procreative sexual acts. God elevates these fruits in the sacrament of Matrimony to provide husband and wife opportunities to growth in holiness and strength to remain steadfast and calm in difficult family times.  Paragraph 1641 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states,

By reason of their state in life and of their order, [Christian spouses] have their own special gifts in the People of God.147 This grace proper to the sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple’s love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity. By this grace they ‘help one another to attain holiness in their married life and in welcoming and educating their children.’

As previously stated, the ordinary means of growing in holiness is through participation of the sacramental life. Within the sacrament of Matrimony I have learned that laughter is a strong defense against the prowess of pride. No other person [aside from my wife] is able to consistently cause me to laugh or smile, and I mean genuinely grin until my mouth hurts or laugh until my side hurts, than my son Josiah! Recently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder he poses an array of daily challenges, but his [apparent] disability gives him the unique ability to provide levity to stressful situations throughout the week.

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A major trait for people with autism spectrum disorder is that they normally become obsessed with a particular interest that encompasses nearly every facet of life. Toy cars emerged as my son’s particular obsession–several months ago– and he needs to carry at least one car in hand at all times. Toy cars provide comfort to him during stressful and changing situations. Allowing him to carry toy cars helps minimize meltdowns and tantrums. Seeing my son’s enthusiasm and joy whenever he wakes up in the morning and runs over to the toy-chest to dump over his box of cars and trucks gives me a smile. His routine is the same each day.

Consulting the King of Paradox

The joy of autism in my son reminds me of the words of G.K. Chesterton,

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we (Orthodoxy). 

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Monotony does not exist in our household. Autism spectrum disorder is challenging to deal with as a parent. I would be a liar if I said otherwise. However, going into marriage and thinking parenting, of any kind, would be easy is a fallacious  lie the Evil One sows into the minds individuals entering marriage. Admittedly, I am prone to the sin of laziness and I too fell, and recently fell, into the trap of believing that parenthood should be easy. The benefit of writing this tribute is that it has allowed me time to ponder the ups and the downs of fatherhood.

Mary’s Perfect Motherhood–a pathway to a more perfect fatherhood 

Recently, I renewed my dedication to the Blessed Virgin Mary through praying the Rosary as I rocked Josiah to bed. Starting with a couple Hail Marys I worked my way up to a decade before he started chucking his toy cars onto the floor–this is a sign he usually is ready for me to lay him down in the crib. The simple petition to my spiritual Mother actually allowed me to grow in the virtue of patience–vitally important for my journey toward being a better father. St. Josemaria Escriva advocated of the Rosary by saying, “Say the Holy Rosary. Blessed be that monotony of Hail Mary’s which purifies the monotony of your sins!” 

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My experience can attest to the truth value of his statement. Bedtime is the perfect time for the Devil to swoop in and allow for sins of impatience and anger explode. Children often arise from bed, even now as I write, my daughter is getting out of her room to try to escape nap time [thus interrupting the flow of my writing!] “Dad! I dropped my golden boogers (jar of gold flakes that she somehow found from my childhood trip to Yellowstone) behind the dresser!” This was the reason my children were up. I cannot make up this stuff. Truly the fruits of marriage provide unique opportunities and challenges for parents to ferment in holiness.

 Thank you God for the gifts of my children–challenging as they may be to raise. I am grateful to celebrate my son Josiah’s birthday– the creator of laughter, smiles, and curator of toy cars in our household. May God bless you and I pray the Holy Spirit is able to open your hearts to the joy of laughter just as my son frequently does for my family!

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A Lenten Reflection

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I wish to prayerfully ponder the words of Jesus in today’s gospel reading and provide a brief reflection on his message as it relates to my life:

 

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LK 9:22-25

Jesus said to his disciples:

“The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected

by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,

and be killed and on the third day be raised.”

Then he said to all,

“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself

and take up his cross daily and follow me.

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,

but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.

What profit is there for one to gain the whole world

yet lose or forfeit himself?”

Do I truly desire salvation for my soul? Or do I simply seek a respite from my suffering? These two questions will be on the forefront of my mind this Lenten season. Jesus is certainly clear that this life involves suffering– and it is inescapable! Even God made Incarnation entered this reality to suffer. More precisely He took suffering head-on, in obedience to God the Father.

Humanity is so weak-minded (myself especially) that we need to be continually reminded to carry our crosses and to unite our suffering to Christ crucified and Resurrected in order to truly acquire life. I ask for strength from the Holy Spirit to suffer gracefully this Lent.

A Close Encounter of the Whimsical Kind

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“Laugh and grow strong,” St. Ignatius said; and to one of his novices, “I see you are always laughing, and I am glad of it.” Humor is a quality I don’t usually attribute to saints, let alone to God. Of all of my defects, perhaps my greatest involves being too serious. Sometimes, I let the stress of daily work and family life hinder my ability to laugh and enjoy life to the fullest. I have often written about how Wednesdays seem to be the highlight of my week. Please see my past articles for a brief history of encountering silliness in the middle of the week: https://mattchicoine.wordpress.com/2017/06/09/a-whimsical-wednesday-encounter-with-wonder/   and https://mattchicoine.wordpress.com/2017/08/25/another-whimsical-wednesday-encounter-with-wonder-at-the-pizzeria/   laughter_health_benefits_smiley_face.jpg

This Wednesday I experienced a whimsical and encounter with wonder yet again— this time through the simple joy of reading the Wizard of Oz to my daughter. Our journey to the magical land of Oz Began several weeks ago as I started to read a chapter from L. Frank Baum’s Book each night to my daughter. To quote Andrew Bernard from The Office, “I wish you had a way of knowing you were in the old of days before you left them.” I certainly had that sentiment as I cuddled with my 4 year old on the couch and told her the fantastical journey of Dorothy’s motley crew toward the Emerald City of Oz.

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Divine encounters always seem to occur in the most unlikely of places and manners. In the Old Testament, Moses encountered God in the guise of a burning bush. During the book of Acts, the Gentiles learned about God through the witness of Peter and the rest of the Apostles. My children as fruits of the sacrament of Matrimony—the tangible experience of God’s love and laughter in my life. Reading about Dorothy’s quest to see the Wonderful Wizard, I witnessed the delight of whimsy and wonder in my child’s eyes. Telling her about the cyclone, Kalidahs—hybrid bear-tiger creatures, yes these are actually a thing that the movie left– (maybe there is where the ♫ Lions, and Tigers, and Bears…oh my! ♫ came from Person Shrugging on Apple iOS 11.2),  and the encounter with the Witched Witch renewed my own spirit of wonder and awe.

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Saint Mother Therese spoke of laughter by saying, “Joy is the net of love by which we catch souls.” My whimsical encounter with wonder pulled me out of despair. Sometimes it takes the simple joys in life–in this case, reading to my child a classic book– to remind me that it is okay to laugh and possess hope during my pilgrim journey towards holiness. I need not always be austere in order to follow God’s plan of salvation. God wants us to enjoy the simple joys and wonders this world has to offer!

Saturday Stress: System Glitches, Panic, & Confusion

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American author Melody Beattie once wrote, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” Her words certainly seemed quite relevant this icy and confusing Saturday. Working my first official Saturday shift at my new work position involved frenzied co-workers, negativity, and confusion due to the unveiling of the new payment system.

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As with any new technology release, glitches are guaranteed to appear during the initial days of the life of any change/update in a computer system. Beginning with murmurings that eventually led to loud vocal outbursts, several co-workers expressed severe dissatisfaction with the new system release. Surprisingly, I handled the change well. During points of transition where major changes occur in the workplace I get nervous—I allow fear to take over. However, calmness of mind and heart hovered over me.

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Such tranquility did not originate from me. A power greater than I provided me the gift of peace and calmness of heart. My Catholic faith allows me to give a name to this power—the Holy Spirit. At Baptism I become an adopted child of God and the Holy Spirit indwelt within me.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church numbers 1227-1228, “Through the Holy Spirit, Baptism is a bath that purifies, justifies, and sanctifies.31 Hence Baptism is a bath of water in which the “imperishable seed” of the Word of God produces its life-giving effect.32 St. Augustine says of Baptism: ‘The word is brought to the material element, and it becomes a sacrament.'” Over time I have learned that the seed of the Catholic faith needs to be watered and fed by asking for God’s graces. According to the great doctor of the Church St. Ephraim, “Virtues are formed by prayer. Prayer preserves temperance. Prayer suppresses anger. Prayer prevents emotions of pride and envy. Prayer draws into the soul of the Holy Spirit, and raises man to Heaven!”

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Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” I have probably made reference to this quote more recently than anything else the God-man taught us. The Holy Spirit provides clarity in confusing and stressful situations, but showering us with an array of luminous virtues. Peace dispels agitation, generosity quells greed, and charity uproots anger from my life.  Confusion is a guarantee in this life, however, the power we receive from the Holy Spirit to withstand the storm of doubt and uncertainty is a gift!

A Thankful Thursday and a New Opportunity

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I wish to share my gratitude of being graced with the time, energy, and willpower to write on a consistent basis. My ultimate aim is to draw others to Jesus Christ through my simple experiences of God’s love in my pilgrim journey in this life.

I am humbled, thankful, and pleased to announce that I will be starting to write articles for Catholic365.com to further promote the Good News of the Gospel. While I will continue to write for The Simple Catholic blog I will write some unique material that will be found exclusively at Catholic365.com.

Thank you again for all that have read and supported my writing during the past several months. I appreciate any prayers to help give me inspiration and strength to continue to spread God’s workings in my life and to provide peace of mind to anyone struggling with daily temptation and anxiety!

3 Lessons from Super Bowl LII

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First uttered in 1973 during the National League Pennant race by baseball legend Yogi Berra, the phrase “it ain’t over till it’s over” is now a staple colloquialism in American society. Watching Super Bowl LII made me think of this saying over and over. After last season’s epic comeback by the New England Patriots [and major collapse on the part of the Atlanta Falcons] in American football’s biggest stage, nothing is truly surprising to me anymore in the world of sports. We should be prepared for the unexpected! Actually, that is what most of the world received as the clock waned done to 00:00 in Super Bowl LII—a largely unexpected victory of the Philadelphia Eagles over the celebrated, and seemingly invincible juggernaut that is Tom Brady. I want to share three lessons I took from this game and how a sporting event provided some perspective to my spiritual journey.

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  1. Never Give Up: Anyone who has played a sport, whether professionally or at the amateur level knows that the overcome of the game is not done until the closing minutes—or even the final play. Whenever my friends and I played a pick-up game of basketball or football to relieve the stress of finals testing, the games were heated and typically ended in a close score. The first lesson I learned from watching Super Bowl LII is to never give up. It is always worth fighting until the end.

 

St. Paul often uses sports terminology when referring to persistence in the journey of faith. He tells us in Acts 20:24, “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” Lessons from football, and other seemingly ordinary activities, can translate to the spiritual life. My time on this earth plane of existence is short, but the key is there is still time. God grants us time to have many chances at asking for forgiveness and bestowing mercy on others.

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  1. Be Bold: Another message I gathered from watching Super Bowl LII is that boldness pays off. Several times throughout the game the Eagles head coach decided to go for it on 4th Knowing he had to be gutsy in order to even have a shot beating an NFL dynasty like the Patriots, Doug Pederson, selected a trick play that may go down in football history as the most intrepid play ever—a direct snap to the running back, pitch to the tight end, and pass to the quarterback for a touchdown!

Possessing confidence in his team allowed for Eagles head coach Doug Pederson to boldly go where teams [aside from the New York Giants] went before—hoisting the Lombardi trophy in victory over the dynamic duo of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Such boldness captivated my attention along with the millions of other viewers of the Super Bowl. Bold and confident people attract others to themselves.

Saint Pope John Paul II was that type of individual. He once stated, “Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” His words relate directly to my life situation. Struggling with confidence within my new job, I act in hesitancy that hampers my ability for achieving greater heights. Ironically, playing things safe, both in my professional and spiritual life do not lead to successes. God does not want us to worry about things outside of our control. Witnessing the football game of the year showed me that some risks are worth taking.

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  1. Rely on Him Who Gives Us Everything: During the trophy presentation of the Lombardi Trophy and the Super Bowl LII MVP award, the excitement of the coaches and players possessed a unique quality this time around. Obviously, any sane person would be ecstatic after winning such a highly touted championship event, but the joy the Philadelphia Eagles displayed seemed a bit different from previous awards ceremonies. All of the major figures in the Eagles franchise: owner, coaches, and quarterback—all opened their speeches with specific praises to God.

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Listening to various post-game interviews I came across this video of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles. His major message is to recognize our failures and look to God for stability in those tough times. We cling to God during the storms of life. Below is a link to this press conference:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5s7Ge7GkhO4

Nick Foles told reporters after the game, “I may be in the NFL. We may have just won the Super Bowl, but we still have daily struggles—I have daily struggles. But that is where my faith and family. When you look at a failure in your life it is an opportunity for your character to grow…I would not be out here [playing football] without God, without Jesus in my life.”  God seems to use normal, maybe even trivial stuff—like an NFL football game, to teach me about the importance of perseverance in the faith and cling to Him in time of need. In my daily struggles to grow in holiness, being a better parent, and a more loving neighbor to my fellow mankind I am grateful that God displayed Himself again to me through the ordinary example of a sporting event!

 

Praying with Paper Football

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Albert Einstein once stated, “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Simplicity is an attractive quality. I experienced simplicity in a unique and seemingly ordinary way—through a game of paper football with my 4 year-old daughter! Too often I strive for the complexities in life—whether that be in solving difficult problems or seeking joy in extraordinary things. Technology is also a double-edged sword, its purpose is to simplify human life, however, because of the explosion of technology in the 21st century we face a digital deluge—I feel the daily pressure [that I impose on myself] to constantly check my social media and blogging sites.

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Why do I inflict such frivolous constraints upon myself? What do I need to prove by keeping up with the trending blogger scene and marketing on various social media platforms? Will my family love me any less if I fail to hit my target goals for views and monthly posts? Certainly not! My struggle is that I tend to implement false activity to mask my slothful tendency.

Raising children—especially children who recently suffered continual fevers—takes a toll on a person. The daily grind of parenting wears on a father, mentally, physically, and spiritually. While I strive to live a virtuous life, I fail, and fail often as a father. Love for my children is replaced by a mindset of viewing children being burdensome. When that occurs the seed of sloth blossoms into a tree of acedia!

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The Holy Spirit conferred graces to help me withstand and eliminate my slothful nature through the simplicity of a paper football game. Triangular paper footballs are becoming common in our home. I recently renewed interest in the classic middle school table-top game. Football is my favorite sport to watch and with the Green Bay Packers out of the NFL playoffs for the first time since 2009 I felt left wanting more football to help keep the stresses of life at bay during the icy winter months.

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Having to stay home [YET AGAIN—at this rate I may be burned completely out of my PTO before spring 😦 ) with my children because of low-grade fevers, unbeknownst to me a fantastic, yet simple encounter with love. After dishing out a bowl of cereal for my daughter, I sat at the kitchen table with her. Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out the paper football and flicked the triangular toy across the table. This simple gesture turned into several minutes of laughter and great fun!

St. Mother Teresa speaks of joy in this way, “Joy is prayer; joy is strength: joy is love; joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” While I cannot guarantee my daughter will remember this simple and joyful experience of playing football paper—although I certainly hope she will learn to cherish this time—I am confident that the working of the Holy Spirit through the means of playtime with my daughter will stay with me forever. Both the Holy Spirit and my daughter taught me that play and prayer do not have to be mutually exclusive, instead God intends to use all types of interactions to draw us closer knowledge and love of Him.

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